Heretolisten.org is a resource for caring adults—the front-line staff in schools and community based programs—to help teens who are struggling with difficult emotions.
Email Newsletter icon
Follow us on:
Share Youth Communication Follow YCteen on Facebook Follow YCteen on YouTube Follow YCteen on Twitter
Follow YCteen on Facebook Follow YCteen on YouTube Follow YCteen on Twitter
The Fury Deep Inside
Julie Stewart
headshot

For half of my life, “abuse me” seemed to be my middle name. I was abused in all the ways you could imagine and this had a big impact on me. It took hold of my emotions. It stripped me of my innocence until I felt like there was no hope left. The anger of those who abused me bounced off of them and onto me. This was something I had to deal with on my own. I had to learn how to manage the anger I carried around.

I was placed in my first foster home when I was 7 with a lady I’ll call Ms. L. By then, I had already experienced abuse. Still, I was usually a mellow kind of person. I never had an attitude problem unless someone was cruel to me. When people were cruel to me. I sometimes threatened them, but usually I just kept quiet.

When I moved to Ms. L’s house, my anger grew and grew. It grew until I thought I would explode with it. I couldn’t keep quiet anymore.

At first, Ms. L seemed like a sweet old lady. She and I had a mother-daughter relationship. She said a lot of “I love you’s” and gave a lot of hugs and kisses, something that I always wanted my biological mother to do for me. Getting this love felt good.

Days turned into months and her ways started to change. After about two years of living with her, she started becoming violent toward me. I’m not sure why she changed, maybe just because I was getting older and was no longer a little girl. Whatever the reason, I lived with this violence for seven years.

The abuse first started when she said something harsh about my mother. She said, “Your mother is a crackhead who will never amount to anything and will never get you home because she never wanted you in the first place. That’s why she hates you.”

These words affected me profoundly. They hurt, and I felt there was more hurt to come. I was right.

One day I was playing in the backyard and I slipped on the plants. Ms. L saw me slip. She thought I was playing in the garden so she ran outside and rushed like somebody was out to get her. She slapped me hard across my face. I was thinking, “If she really loves me, why did she hurt me?”

After that, the abuse went on almost every day. Sometimes she would hit me with whatever was lying around. If her slippers were lying around, she’d hit me with them.

My anger started around this time. I began exploding at my friends and loved ones. If someone close to me took their bad day out on me, I would get really frustrated and start saying harsh things to hurt them. Then I would turn around and regret everything I said. My emotions felt out of control.

My anger came from the abuse I had experienced throughout my life, and from the silence I didn’t break when I had had enough of it. Nobody seemed to care two egg rolls about me. It made me so angry. I wanted to walk away from those feelings so much.


But I couldn’t walk away from my anger and I couldn’t control my temper. Soon I wasn’t just getting angry at people who disrespected me first. I’d start fights in school with my best friends. I used profanity against teachers who were trying to help me. I hurt my own family with harsh words. This attitude of mine was careless. I didn’t want anybody to befriend me. I was too scary and angry to love, I thought, so I made a point of hurting them before they hurt me.

I knew I had a serious anger problem when I started to beat on my baby sister, who was about 5. I struck her hard across the face when she said a word to me that I myself had taught her, the word “b-tch.” Then I felt bad. I knew I was doing what adults had always done to me—I was taking my problems out on someone smaller, someone who didn’t deserve it one bit.

image by YC-Art Dept

But Ms. L kept abusing me and I kept silent about it. I still needed a way to vent my anger. Sometimes I just tried to escape my problems. I took walks and daydreamed to make the pain go away.

Taking long walks in the park after school made my thoughts simmer down, and I was always relieved not to be going straight home to Ms. L. But whenever I walked I could almost hear the clock ticking, and I worried that Ms. L would soon be out searching for me, for the rule was to come straight home after school.

One day I felt especially rebellious. I took a really long walk. Seconds turned into minutes and the speed in my walk quickened. I didn’t want to go back. Not yet. I wanted more moments of peace.

Then something caught my attention. A car I recognized pulled onto the sidewalk. Ms. L jumped out of it and grabbed my arm. I could have known who it was just by her grip. She screamed at me and punched me in front of a bunch of people. When we got home, the day went on like any other, her hitting me again and again.

I knew I couldn’t take it anymore. The abuse and the rage took over my heart. One day in the middle of fall, my friend Latoya started talking about how she wanted to leave her adoptive family because of the way they treated her, so I suggested that we run away together.

That’s just what we did, like Thelma and Louise. We went first to my grandmother’s house, who let us stay for one night only. The next day my uncle let us stay in his apartment. He said that he would have to call my caseworker. Latoya went home.

The next morning as the hours went by, I waited impatiently for my caseworker to pick me up. I was looking forward to it, because I had decided I would tell my caseworker about the abuse. Then I would never have to go back to Ms. L’s house again.

When the caseworker finally arrived, we sat and talked. I let everything out this time. It felt scary but good to let all the pain be released from my heart through talking. The caseworker felt that I should have told somebody earlier about the abuse, and she was angry at Ms. L. She said that her rights as a foster parent would be taken away. Then she thanked me for being courageous and telling her.


It turns out that running away had a big impact on my life. It made the anger that I had simmer down a little because I knew I wouldn’t be going back to Ms. L’s house. It also made me feel like I had more control over my environment. I had gotten myself out of a bad situation. That made me feel like I had more control.

I went to a home with a loving family and a lady named Lucille Hardison. It was hard at first. I didn’t know what to expect from the family. But soon I realized that their home felt different from Ms. L’s.

Ms. Hardison sometimes talked about the problems in my life like I was part of the family. She told me straight up that she felt the abuse that I had faced in Ms. L’s home wasn’t right. She explained that she didn’t believe in hitting kids. She said that you must work with children, not hit them.

Her telling me that made me feel like there were decent people in the world. And that helped me open up to her and trust her. I felt like I was no longer alone with my problems.

Ms. Hardison grew to be like a grandmother to me. By opening up her heart and home to me, she gave me a feeling of belonging. When it came to my anger problem, she worked with me step by step and never gave up on me. She talked with me about the emotions I had from all the abuse, and that in itself made me feel a little less angry.

image by YC-Art Dept

I also started to realize that my temper had a good side to it: it had brought me back to life. It had opened up my eyes and shown me that I couldn’t keep living with all the abuse I had put up with for so long. It had given me the courage to get out of a bad situation.

Still, I no longer wanted that anger to be controlling me. Sometimes trying to control that evil force in my heart felt hopeless, even with Ms. Hardison’s help. So I prayed to God to help me. That gave me strength to go forward even when the world felt its darkest.

It also helped to talk to some of my family members about my problem. They encouraged me and told me that whenever I needed them they would be there no matter what. It felt good to know my family would stick by my side even through bad times.

I especially had trouble controlling my temper around my mother. Whenever she acted selfishly towards me, I felt hatred all over. I thought of the times I had experienced abuse living with her, and wished that I had spoken to someone about it back then.

But I also realized that having experienced all that made me even more determined to not hit kids for no reason. That gave me more motivation to work on my temper, and, slowly, I taught myself how to relax my mind and not snap over something that wasn’t worth it. Instead, I found that crying, speaking about my anger, taking a walk, or cleaning helped me to feel better.

I discovered, over time, that there was a strange consequence to me learning to control my temper. For so many years, I’d lived with so much anger that I’d started to think that that was all there was to me. Once I started learning to control my anger, I realized I didn’t know who I was without it. That was scary. I didn’t know how to act if I didn’t act with anger. It left me feeling confused and a little helpless for a while.

Over time, though, I began to feel more comfortable not living with so much anger. I’m not saying that I don’t have any temper now. I still do. When I get mad, my emotions sometimes still take over, especially when I’m angry because a family member or my boyfriend has disappointed me. But now instead of lashing out at others because of my hurt, I’ll do something else to clear my mind.

I especially like cleaning. You know how when you’re cleaning and you want to get things right? It feels like everything is connected: I can get a room together and my thoughts together at the same time. Every time I pick up something to put it away, I pretend I’m picking up my problems and throwing them away or putting them in their place. While I do that, I listen to mellow music to soothe my mood. By the time I see the person I’m mad at, my attitude toward them has changed. I can talk to them about what bothers me more calmly.

Last Christmas, I wanted a pair of black Timberland boots. I wanted those boots forever. I thought I was definitely going to get them from my mother. When my mother said that I wouldn’t receive the boots, I felt very hurt and mad. I felt myself losing my temper.

My mother explained that she didn’t have the money to get me the boots and that she was sorry. Normally, I wouldn’t have listened. I would have made her feel bad and wouldn’t try to understand her point of view because it was all about me, me, me.

But this time, I calmed myself down. I tried to really listen to her, and eventually I felt in my heart that she was really sorry. That made me feel better. It also felt like I was growing up. It made me feel in control of my life and emotions.

Over time, I have been getting to know myself more. I am seeing that there is a lot more to me than my anger.

CHILD ABUSE
To talk to a crisis counselor about child abuse, call 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453) or go to childhelp.org.

horizontal rule
(FCYU-2002-01-02)

Visit Our Online Store